We once bought into the idea that we needed a pest control service to spray the perimeter of our home so palmetto bugs (a nice Southern term for huge, flying roaches) wouldn’t get in. The service people always reassured us what they were spraying wouldn’t harm our pets or children in any way. I knew this didn’t sound right and didn’t let them spray inside, but wanted to believe it was true. I didn’t want to think past my fear of flying roaches because I didn’t grow up with them and they freaked me out when we moved to Houston almost 25 years ago. I was shocked to learn they fly when I swatted at one in my then young children’s bathroom and was convinced that even though I’d only seen one, there was a nest of them somewhere. The pest control company who showed up didn’t dispel this idea by explaining that palmetto bugs live outside and might wander inside seeking water during dry spells - which also happened when we moved to Atlanta.
We’ve also never had a consistent problem of any kind with insects inside because we’ve always had dogs and cats who are our insect sentinels and get very excited if even a fly appears. If I paused to process what I was being told and moved past the state of fearing insects that the pest control companies encouraged, I would have been more critical about the perimeter spraying. Yet even with the routine service, in the summer when we opened the door at night palmetto bugs would scatter from our front porch and back deck. Somehow instead of thinking the obvious which is that maybe the poison perimeter wasn’t working because the palmetto bugs lived outside and not just around the perimeter of our home, we thought this meant it would be even worse if we didn’t keep the service.
At some point when I started connecting the ecological dots, I made the decision to change the way we took care of our yard and got rid of the pest control company. We were so brainwashed by the idea of protecting our home from insects that my husband made me promise we’d get the service back if we started seeing any insects inside. Of course, that didn’t happen. What did happen was we started seeing cute little green anoles and beautiful five-lined skinks.
The five-lined skink is the most common of the six skink species found in Georgia and is most abundant in the Piedmont region (which Atlanta is in). It's an insectivore, meaning it eats insects such as termites, grasshoppers, slugs, spiders, and yes cockroaches (no matter what you call them!). Five-lined skinks are beneficial lizards often found in wooded areas but make themselves at home around porches where they can find dark, damp places to hide for shelter and have babies, places to soak up the sun, and can feast on all the insects the pest company insisted might find their way inside.
Beneficial green anoles are the only native anoles in North America and facing the same challenges as most wildlife. One in four lizard species is threatened with extinction because of the usual alarming causes – environmental pollutants, climate change, habitat loss and degradation, diseases, and invasive species. Green anoles adapt to suburban areas and like to sunbath on railings, patios, and decks. They are insectivores and will eat anything smaller than their head including flies, slugs, termites, mosquitoes, and of course cockroaches.
We’re done falling for the pest control company’s sales pitch that we need their poisons to protect us from marauding insects that might be seeking shelter in our home. The fact is the chemical-free and healthy ecosystem of my rewilded yard offers an ideal habitat for insects who don’t seem to want to be inside. The insects are also a fundamental part of the backyard food web that also includes the skinks, anoles, birds, and other wildlife who need them to survive. Insecticides not only indiscriminately kill insects but are toxic to reptiles including skinks and anoles. Once we stopped using poisons as part of our effort to restore nature where we live, our fragile yard ecosystem. righted itself. Now when we open the door at night, we don’t see any palmetto bugs scatter. It turns out we already had a natural pest control service team all along! (the video is a green anole who greeted us recently when we came home from an outing!)
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